Fraternity

Fraternity

FRATERNITY JOHN GALSWORTHY CHAPTER I THE SHADOW In the afternoon of the last day of April 190- a billowy sea of little broken clouds crowned the thin air above High Street Kensington. This soft tumult of vapours covering nearly all the firmament was in onslaught round a patch of blue sky shaped somewhat like a star which still gleamed--a single gentian flower amongst innumerable grass. Each of these small clouds seemed fitted with a pair of unseen wings and as insects flight on their too constant journeys they were setting forth all ways round this starry blossom which burned so clear with the colour of its far fixity. On one side they were massed in fleecy congeries so crowding each other that no edge or outline was preserved; on the other higher stronger emergent from their fellow-clouds they seemed leading the attack on that surviving gleam of the ineffable. Infinite was the variety of those million separate vapours infinite the unchanging unity of that fixed blue star. Down in the street beneath this eternal warring of the various soft- winged clouds on the unmisted ether men women children and their familiars--horses dogs and cats--were pursuing their occupations with the sweet zest of the Spring. They streamed along and the noise of their frequenting rose in an unbroken roar: "I I-I I!" The crowd was perhaps thickest outside the premises of Messrs. Rose and Thorn. Every kind of being from the highest to the lowest passed in front of the hundred doors of this establishment; and before the costume window a rather tall slight graceful woman stood thinking: "It really is gentian blue! But I don't know whether I ought to buy it with all this distress about!" Her eyes which were greenish-grey and often ironical lest they should reveal her soul seemed probing a blue gown displayed in that window to the very heart of its desirability. "And suppose Stephen doesn't like me in it!" This doubt set her gloved fingers pleating the bosom of her frock. Into that little pleat she folded the essence of herself the wish to have and the fear of having the wish to be and the fear of being and her veil falling from the edge of her hat three inches from her face shrouded with its tissue her half-decided little features her rather too high cheek-bones her cheeks which were slightly hollowed as though Time had kissed them just too much. The old man with a long face eyes rimmed like a parrot's and discoloured nose who so long as he did not sit down was permitted to frequent the pavement just there and sell the 'Westminster Gazette' marked her and took his empty pipe out of his mouth. It was his business to know all the passers-by and his pleasure too; his mind was thus distracted from the condition of his feet. He knew this particular lady with the delicate face and found her puzzling; she sometimes bought the paper which Fate condemned him against his politics to sell. The Tory journals were undoubtedly those which her class of person ought to purchase. He knew a lady when he saw one. In fact before Life threw him into the streets by giving him a disease in curing which his savings had disappeared he had been a butler and for the gentry had a respect as incurable as was his distrust of "all that class of people" who bought their things at "these 'ere large establishments" and attended "these 'ere subscription dances at the Town 'All over there." He watched her with special interest not indeed attempting to attract attention though conscious in every fibre that he had only sold five copies of his early issues. And he was sorry and surprised when she passed from his sight through one of the hundred doors. The thought which spurred her into Messrs. Rose and Thorn's was this: "I am thirty-eight; I have a daughter of seventeen. I cannot afford to lose my husband's admiration. The time is on me when I really must make myself look nice!" Before a long mirror in whose bright pool there yearly bathed hundreds of women's bodies divested of skirts and bodices whose unruffled surface reflected daily a dozen women's souls divested of everything her eyes became as bright as steel; but having ascertained the need of taking two inches off the chest of the gentian frock one off its waist three off its hips and of adding one to its skirt they clouded again with doubt as though prepared to fly from the decision she had come to. Resuming her bodice she asked: "When could you let me have it?" "At the end of the week madam." "Not till then?" "We are very pressed madam." "Oh but you must let me have it by Thursday at the latest please." The fitter sighed: "I will do my best." "I shall rely on you. Mrs. Stephen Dallison 76 The Old Square." Going downstairs she thought: "That poor girl looked very tired; it's a shame they give them such long hours!" and she passed into the street. A voice said timidly behind her: "Westminister marm?" "That's the poor old creature" thought Cecilia Dallison "whose nose is so unpleasant. I don't really think I--" and she felt for a penny in her little bag. Standing beside the "poor old creature" was a woman clothed in worn but neat black clothes and an ancient toque which had once known a better head. The wan remains of a little bit of fur lay round her throat. She had a thin face not without refinement mild very clear brown eyes and a twist of smooth black hair. Beside her was a skimpy little boy and in her arms a baby. Mrs. Dallison held out two-pence for the paper but it was at the woman that she looked. "Oh Mrs. Hughs" she said "we've been expecting you to hem the curtains!" The woman slightly pressed the baby. "I am very sorry ma'am. I knew I was expected but I've had such trouble." Cecilia winced. "Oh really?" "Yes m'm; it's my husband." "Oh dear!" Cecilia murmured. "But why didn't you come to us?" "I didn't feel up to it ma'am; I didn't really--" A tear ran down her cheek and was caught in a furrow near the mouth. Mrs. Dallison said hurriedly: "Yes yes; I'm very sorry." "This old gentleman Mr. Creed lives in the same house with us and he is going to speak to my husband." The old man wagged his head on its lean stalk of neck. "He ought to know better than be'ave 'imself so disrespectable" he said. Cecilia looked at him and murmured: "I hope he won't turn on you!" The old man shuffled his feet. "I likes to live at peace with everybody. I shall have the police to 'im if he misdemeans hisself with me!... Westminister sir?" And screening his mouth from Mrs. Dallison he added in a loud whisper: "Execution of the Shoreditch murderer!" Cecilia felt suddenly as though the world were listening to her conversation with these two rather seedy persons. "I don't really know what I can do for you Mrs. Hughs. I'll speak to Mr. Dallison and to Mr. Hilary too." "Yes ma'am; thank you ma'am." With a smile which seemed to deprecate its own appearance Cecilia grasped her skirts and crossed the road. "I hope I wasn't unsympathetic" she thought looking back at the three figures on the edge of the pavement--the old man with his papers and his discoloured nose thrust upwards under iron-rimmed spectacles; the seamstress in her black dress; the skimpy little boy. Neither speaking nor moving they were looking out before them at the traffic; and something in Cecilia revolted at this sight. It was lifeless hopeless unaesthetic. "What can one do" she thought "for women like Mrs. Hughs who always look like that? And that poor old man! I suppose I oughtn't to have bought that dress but Stephen is tired of this." She turned out of the main street into a road preserved from commoner forms of traffic and stopped at a long low house half hidden behind the trees of its front garden. It was the residence of Hilary Dallison her husband's brother and himself the husband of Bianca her own sister. The queer conceit came to Cecilia that it resembled Hilary. Its look was kindly and uncertain; its colour a palish tan; the eyebrows of its windows rather straight than arched and those deep-set eyes the windows twinkled hospitably; it had as it were a sparse moustache and beard of creepers and dark marks here and there like the lines and shadows on the faces of those who think too much. Beside it and apart though connected by a passage a studio stood and about that studio--of white rough-cast with a black oak door and peacock-blue paint--was something a little hard and fugitive well suited to Bianca who used it indeed to paint in. It seemed to stand with its eyes on the house shrinking defiantly from too close company as though it could not entirely give itself to anything. Cecilia who often worried over the relations between her sister and her brother- in-law suddenly felt how fitting and symbolical this was. But mistrusting inspirations which experience told her committed one too much she walked quickly up the stone-flagged pathway to the ...